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Nationwide Division One, 13/10/01
Sheffield Wednesday

Excessive exposure
By Matt Rowson

There was an interview on Radio 5 the other day. The sort of interview that occasionally gets shoved into a two minute gap before a news bulletin, allowing Peter Allen to transform from unforgivingly blunt current affairs journalist to docile, befuddled uncle figure.

The subject, on this occasion, was sandwich making. The interviewee, a girl employed in said profession, was able to use her two minutes to convey both the very large number of sandwiches that she constructed every morning and her consequential failure to appreciate sandwiches at their full worth.

Imagine this. Excessive exposure rendering one unable to appreciate a round of Cheddar and Branston on Crusty White, or Tuna Mayonnaise with Sweetcorn on Granary. It was impossible not to feel a little pity for her, before the news bulletin was announced with an onthepulsey sort of jingle and swept her into memory.

It got me thinking. Sandwich making cannot be unique as a profession in causing its practitioners to lose a little focus, to be unable to appreciate the fruits or the context of their art. A lodger of mine who spent her days at work dissecting chicken meat was consequently never a big fan of KFC. Okay, bad example. Do composers listen to music to assess end product without thinking about the minutiae of each piece's construction, I wonder ?

Football is a very good case in point. Alan Green, animated and entertaining commentator though he is, displays a surprising lack of understanding with his disparaging "I just don't understand that" condemnation of the reception that, for example, Paul Ince receives at Upton Park.

And just this week Dave Bassett displayed an astonishing lack of empathy with the football supporting public, by advocating a merger between the two Sheffield sides as the only way the steel city is likely to achieve the Premiership football that it merits. That Wednesday and United fans took a break from lobbing abuse at each other on each club's message boards to agree on the idiocy of both comment and concept speaks volumes. The lack of understanding that characterised Bassett's lumbering into a particularly fragile seat at Vicarage Road fourteen years ago comes sharply back into focus.

The Sheffield derby this weekend illustrated in many ways the plight of both clubs, and particularly the Owls. Four years ago Wednesday were an established top-flight side, one of the bunch in mid-table with an outside chance of Europe every season. Overstretching and some bad signings saw them tumble limply. The 44% in a relatively extensive web poll who anticipated at least a play-off place for the Owls this season seem unduly optimistic (and bear in mind that this proportion will inevitably be an underestimate of Owls' opinion given the scope for Blades fans to cast their votes on passing through). More telling is that the derby game, always fiercely contested, has adopted the mantle of being more important than the entire campaign. This was always the most depressing aspect of many of our more recent derbies with Luton and, like many of these, Sunday's fixture was a not terribly surprising goalless draw.

That the Sheffield derby was one of only two Division One ties not to succumb to postponement due to international call-ups this weekend passes comment on the state of the Wednesday squad which, stripped by necessity of most of its high earners, comprises much-travelled journeymen and a number of youngsters pushed through earlier than would have been ideal.

The odd exception remains as a memento of more successful times; Kevin Pressman, for one, has been at Hillsborough since before many of the first team squad were at nursery school. He won the man-of-the-match award on Sunday with an inspired performance, not the first such showing this season. His deputy is Chris Stringer, who briefly challenged for the starting spot last year.

At right-back on Sunday was the versatile and highly-rated Leigh Bromby; however Ian Hendon's anticipated return from an ankle injury could see Bromby moved to the centre of defence. His likely partner would be Danny Maddix, who seems to be the replacement old head at the back for Des Walker, who departed in the summer.  Ashley Westwood has been partnering Maddix; Westwood has not been one of the most popular members of the playing staff either here or at Bradford.  Left back will probably be young Irishman Derek Geary in the absence of Andy Hinchcliffe, out until the end of the year after an Achilles operation.

Cover in the back line is provided by the versatile Steve Haslam, and former Liverpool chopper Steve Harkness.

In midfield, an experienced central pairing will, it is hoped, strengthen the spine of the team.  Carlton Palmer needs no introduction having briefly threatened to beef up our own midfield last season before Coventry recalled but didn't play him.  New club captain is another ex-Coventry man, Norwegian Trond Egil Soltvedt.  

On the right hand side, Matt Hamshaw is a winger with pace who supported Wednesday as a boy.  Irishman Alan Quinn on the left is one of the most promising players in the side.  Other options include the enormous Tony Crane who, like Quinn, scored in this fixture last season, former Luton man Paul McLaren and Aaron Lescott, whose brother is making a bigger impression at Wolves.  A triumvirate of injury-prone Scottish midfielders also appears to be approaching the first team squad; Simon Donnelly, Phil O'Donnell and Philip Scott have made fourteen starts between them since their arrival two years ago.

Up front, injuries have hit Wednesday hard.  The unpredictable Gerald Sibon, so impressive at Hillsborough last season, is out with a knee problem and Efan Ekoku, now a permanent recruit from Grasshoppers, has knee ligament damage.  The acrobatic long-haired Italian Michele di Piedi and ex-Celt and supposed one-time Watford target Tommy Johnson both started on Sunday but both picked up knee knocks which made them doubtful for the Palace cup-tie in midweek.

This leaves Owen Morrison, an Ulsterman who often plays wide and missed the derby due to international duty, and Pablo Bonvin, a quick Argentinean on a year's loan.

With Wednesday at something of a low ebb, we won't have many better chances to kick off another run of home league form.  With only a single win all season, the Owls will probably be grateful for a point, before another grim season is confirmed and the lack of appreciation of football in Sheffield stretches beyond their rivals' ex-manager.